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Chimney Sweeps Over Time

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The Long And Storied History Of The Chimney Sweep

Many of us likely first became aware of the chimney sweep watching Mary Poppins, as Bert the sweep danced on rooftops, his face spotted with soot. That image, of course, is quite different from the sweeps of today — professional technicians, like the ones at Magic Sweep, employ high-tech video scanners and specially designed vacuums to inspect and sweep chimneys thoroughly, efficiently and cleanly.

But one thing is true about the image Mary Poppins portrayed: You can indeed trace the history of the chimney sweep back to coal-heated days in Europe — though it’s much further than Mary Poppins’ time in the early 1900s. As far back as the 16th century, as fireplaces became a key home heating source, chimney sweeps were employed to remove soot and deposits to help homeowners avoid chimney fires.

The profession has evolved to increase safety for the sweeps and performance for your chimney.

The profession has evolved to increase safety for the sweeps and performance for your chimney.

Busy But Dark Days In Chimney Sweeping History

When coal became more prevalent as a heating source in the 17th century, chimney sweeps became far busier and more popular. Coal residue would build up considerably in flues of the day, leading to fires and dangerous gases that billowed from the chimney into the air in a home. It quickly became clear that the chimney sweep’s trade was key to a safer home and cleaner air.

That period was also a dark one for our business, as it was very common for boys as young as six or seven to be pushed into chimney sweeping work. Many were orphans, and all were working in dangerous conditions, climbing up inside tight and winding, soot-covered chimneys to scrape and brush deposits off by hand. Since health and safety precautions weren’t considered properly, illness — even death — often followed, as those boys breathed sooty air without a ventilator and climbed inside unsafe, unstable structures. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the practice of using young boys to sweep chimneys was halted. Around that time, chimney sweeping moved forward with the development of long, flexible sweeping brushes by Londoner Joseph Glass (his designs inform the tools chimney sweeps use even to this day).

Fuel Changes Bring Sweeping Changes

The need for chimney sweeps’ work fell out of many home- and business owners’ minds around the 1960s, as gas heating became more popular, since gas doesn’t produce the dangerous creosote deposits that come with burning wood. Things changed again, though, in the ’70s, as gas prices shot up and wood came back in favor. The value of the chimney sweep’s work quickly came into focus again, as flues that hadn’t been tended to in years started being used again, and chimney fires and carbon monoxide leaks followed.

The CSIA Guides Chimney Sweeps Toward More Consistent Work

For many years, a chimney sweep’s approach to the trade was largely up to their own discretion, which led to highly varied results, and highly varied levels of professionalism. The Chimney Safety Institute of America came into play in the 1980s, and their work toward guiding the chimney industry’s practices toward minimizing fires and other hazards made a huge difference. With techniques and practices outlined and coordinated and sweeps educated by the CSIA, homeowners enjoy consistent work, better service and more peace of mind when they hire CSIA-certified technicians.

Magic Sweep technicians undergo the education and testing required to be certified by the CSIA (and we’re members of various industry organizations, including the National Chimney Sweep Guild, the Virginia Association of Chimney & Hearth Professionals and National Fire Protection Association), so when you call us, you know you’re getting industry-leading work and tradespeople who know their trade — even its history.

We don’t just sweep chimneys, either — whatever your chimney system needs might be, from sales and installations to repairs, we can help. Just give Magic Sweep a call!